What's your favorite Civil War diary/memoir?

eeric

Private
Joined
Apr 14, 2019
I mentioned in another post that I enjoyed the diary of Gideon Welles (Lincoln's Secretary of the Navy). I also read Mary Chesnut's diary, which, although containing interesting observations on people and events, is sometimes difficult reading to get through.

How so? its a very personal diary she didnt intend to publish unless I am mistaken, I have read it twice and probably will again and think its among the top 10 CW memoirs easily hands down...
 

jackt62

Captain
Joined
Jul 28, 2015
Location
New York City
How so? its a very personal diary she didnt intend to publish unless I am mistaken, I have read it twice and probably will again and think its among the top 10 CW memoirs easily hands down...

That's exactly what I found somewhat hard to get through, some of the personal stuff. While overall interesting, it is a long diary and many of the encounters that do not deal with the ongoing war, politics, or other major events, didn't hold the same interest to me. Just my opinion.
 

poorjack

Corporal
Joined
Jul 17, 2015
Location
NC
One very interesting thing I read while doing first person research was a set of letters from the time. The correspondence involved an unmarried young lady and several suitors, all of whom were serving in the Confederate army. None knew of the others. Her father approved of none, as alluded to often in her letters back to the guys. One in particular was heartbreaking. This particular guy was the one she seemed most interested in. His prose and handwriting was excellent. In his last letter to her, dated late Feb of 1864, he apologized for his poor handwriting as he had been wounded in the battle of Olustee and he was having to write with his left hand. There were some person sentiments but mostly he was informing her of his wounds and that he was resting and recovering. The paper had blood stains on it as well and he also apologized in the letter for them. The next item in that thread of letters from him was a newspaper clipping of his obituary as he died from his wounds in early March of 1864. She must have really wanted him as she never married any of the other suitors.

This is the kind of stuff you don't see in the history books or naratives of the time. It's only in the personal daily lives of the people of the day so I don't find a diary boring at all.
 
Joined
Mar 19, 2019
How so? its a very personal diary she didnt intend to publish unless I am mistaken, I have read it twice and probably will again and think its among the top 10 CW memoirs easily hands down...

From what I understand, when Mary Chesnut originally wrote her diary during the war, she didn't intend to publish it.

However, after the war, Chesnut and her husband struggled financially (as did many families after the war). It is my understanding that Chesnut spent a great deal of time revising her wartime diary AFTER the war, with the thought that she might be able to make money from having it published.

This is just my understanding. So, let me know if this is not correct.

Chesnut attempted to write fiction as well. She started a novel titled "The Captain and the Colonel." She also started to write a fictionalized account about two years of her life in her teenage years before her marriage. I think that it was based on the period of time shortly before father, Stephen Decatur Miller (former governor of South Carolina), passed away.

Chesnut was personal friends with Varina Davis. During the years after the war, Mrs. Davis helped her husband with his own memoirs, and then she made money writing as a newspaper columnist in New York City. I personally wonder how much of an influence the women had on each other in their writing projects.
 
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General Casey

First Sergeant
Joined
Jan 26, 2016
Location
Massachusetts
John Ryan - 28th Massachusetts

He had a really interesting career. He was from my hometown, joined the 28th in 1861, served throughout the war with them and the 61st Massachusetts, then after the war joins the 7th Cavalry under Custer. He's actually very well respected by Custer since he's a vet and becomes a First Sergeant, then busted to Private for harshly disciplining another soldier and immediately promoted back to First Sergeant the day after the court martial ends. He's at the Little Bighorn with Reno (I think) and identifies Custer's body. He returns home and joins the Newton, Massachusetts police and becomes a Captain. He lived until the late 20s or early 30s. I had a friend in high school whose grandfather as a young boy used to deliver groceries to him.

His diaries with both the 28th and 7th Cavalry have been published, as has a biography.
 

John S. Carter

Sergeant Major
Joined
Mar 15, 2017
In the course of doing research for my family history, I've read a lot of diaries/memoirs written by CW soldiers. Some have short, factual entries written during the war, some have long narratives written well after the war was over. All give a glimpse not only of the events observed by the soldier but also of the personality of the writer. Nearly all are interesting but a few are special - just great accounts of one person's life that would be enjoyable to read even if you weren't a big fan of the Civil War era.

So - I'm curious. What's your favorite among the diaries and/or memoirs you've read?
I have just finished reading ,"A Blockaded Family,Life in Southern Alabama During the Civil War"' by Parthenia Anoinette Hague.She was a teacher from Columbus,Ga. who went as a teacher to Eufaula,Al..It is her story of the deprivation which the women of that area endured during the war in South Alabama .Ms Hague writes of the creations the ladies made when they no longer had the materials or goods that were needed by the people.The men were off to war and the blockade had taken effect on the Confederacy.It would be interesting for some of the women today to create the materials and foods which these women had to do with .Suggest that before you read this book that one research her and the area of Eufaula during this period. UTUB has a interesting video on Dr.Wayne Flynt,University Pro, who has written books on the history of Al.The video is on Eufaula and that area during and after the war.My father's family came from Pike county and my mother's from Early county Ga. so you see where my interest in this area.
 

Virginia Dave

First Sergeant
Forum Host
Joined
Jan 3, 2019
Location
Waynesboro, Virginia
In the course of doing research for my family history, I've read a lot of diaries/memoirs written by CW soldiers. Some have short, factual entries written during the war, some have long narratives written well after the war was over. All give a glimpse not only of the events observed by the soldier but also of the personality of the writer. Nearly all are interesting but a few are special - just great accounts of one person's life that would be enjoyable to read even if you weren't a big fan of the Civil War era.

So - I'm curious. What's your favorite among the diaries and/or memoirs you've read?
Well so far the only one I have read is the one that my GGGrandfather scribbled in the pages of his artillery manual after he was captured. Most of it was damaged and could not be read. However, what is legible wasinteresting. Now I am starting on one the Diary of Robert A. Moore CSA "A Life for the Confederacy" I will let you know how it goes.
'
 

lupaglupa

2nd Lieutenant
Forum Host
Joined
Apr 18, 2019
Well so far the only one I have read is the one that my GGGrandfather scribbled in the pages of his artillery manual after he was captured. Most of it was damaged and could not be read. However, what is legible wasinteresting. Now I am starting on one the Diary of Robert A. Moore CSA "A Life for the Confederacy" I will let you know how it goes.
'
Have you been able to share your GGGrandfather's writings? I'm sure others would be interested in them!
 

lupaglupa

2nd Lieutenant
Forum Host
Joined
Apr 18, 2019
I have just finished reading ,"A Blockaded Family,Life in Southern Alabama During the Civil War"' by Parthenia Anoinette Hague.She was a teacher from Columbus,Ga. who went as a teacher to Eufaula,Al..It is her story of the deprivation which the women of that area endured during the war in South Alabama .Ms Hague writes of the creations the ladies made when they no longer had the materials or goods that were needed by the people.The men were off to war and the blockade had taken effect on the Confederacy.It would be interesting for some of the women today to create the materials and foods which these women had to do with .Suggest that before you read this book that one research her and the area of Eufaula during this period. UTUB has a interesting video on Dr.Wayne Flynt,University Pro, who has written books on the history of Al.The video is on Eufaula and that area during and after the war.My father's family came from Pike county and my mother's from Early county Ga. so you see where my interest in this area.
A Blockaded Family sounds fascinating. Thanks for including it on this thread. I'm adding it to my TBR list.
 

Philip Leigh

formerly Harvey Johnson
Joined
Oct 22, 2014
In the course of doing research for my family history, I've read a lot of diaries/memoirs written by CW soldiers. Some have short, factual entries written during the war, some have long narratives written well after the war was over. All give a glimpse not only of the events observed by the soldier but also of the personality of the writer. Nearly all are interesting but a few are special - just great accounts of one person's life that would be enjoyable to read even if you weren't a big fan of the Civil War era.

So - I'm curious. What's your favorite among the diaries and/or memoirs you've read.
I'm surprised that the Sam Watkins memoir, Company H, is not mentioned more often in this thread. Here's one of his humorous episodes:

One Sabbath morning it was announced that an eloquent LL. D. from Nashville was going to preach. As the occasion was an exceedingly solemn one, we were anxious to hear this divine preach from God’s Holy Word. As he was one of the “big ones,” the whole army was formed in close column and stacked their arms. The cannon were parked all pointing back toward Chattanooga. The scene looked weird and picturesque. It was in a dark wilderness of woods and vines and overhanging limbs. In fact, it seemed but the home of the owl and the bat, and other varmints that turn night into day. Everything looked solemn. The trees looked solemn, the scene looked solemn, the men looked solemn, even the horses looked solemn. You may be sure, reader, that we felt solemn.

The reverend LL. D. had prepared a regular war sermon before he left home. Of course he had to preach it. Appropriate or inappropriate, it was in him and had to come out. He opened the service with a song. I did remember the piece that was sung, but right now I cannot recall it. But as near as I can now recollect here is his prayer, verbatim et literatim [latin: “word-for-word”]:

Oh, Thou immaculate, invisible, eternal and holy Being, the exudations of whose effulgence illuminates this terrestrial sphere, we approach Thy presence, being covered all over with wounds and bruises and putrefying sores, from the crowns of our heads to the soles of our feet. And Thou, O Lord, art our dernier [latin: “last”] resort. The whole world is one great machine, managed by Thy puissance [competitive test for a jumping horse]. The beautific splendors of Thy face irradiate the celestial region and felicitate the saints. There are the most exuberant profusions of Thy grace, and the sempiternal efflux of Thy glory.​

God is an abyss of light, a circle whose center is everywhere and His circumference nowhere. Hell is the dark world made up of spiritual sulphur and other ignited ingredients, disunited and unharmonized, and without that pure balsamic oil that flows from the heart of God.​
When the old fellow got this far, I lost the further run of his prayer, but regret very much that I did so, because it was so grand and fine that I would have liked very much to have kept such an appropriate prayer for posterity. In fact, it lays it on heavy over any prayer I ever heard. I think the new translators ought to get it and have it put in their book as a sample prayer. But they will have to get the balance of it from the eminent LL. D.

In fact, he was so “high larnt” that I don’t think anyone understood him but the generals. The colonels might every now and then have understood a word, and maybe a few of the captains and lieutenants, because Lieutenant Lansdown told me he understood every word the preacher said, and further informed me that it was none of your one-horse, old-fashioned country prayers that privates knew anything about, but was bang-up, first-rate, orthodox.

Well, after singing and praying, he took his text. I quote entirely from memory. “Blessed be the Lord God, who teaches my hands to war and my fingers to fight.” Now, reader, that was the very subject we boys did not want to hear preached about—on that occasion at least. We felt like some other subject would have suited us better.

I forget how he commenced his sermon, but I remember that after he got warmed up a little, he began to pitch in on the Yankee nation, and gave them particular fits as to their genealogy. He said that we of the South had descended from the royal and aristocratic blood of the Huguenots of France, and of the cavaliers of England, but that the Yankees were the descendants of the crop-eared Puritans and witch burners, who came over in the Mayflower, and settled at Plymouth Rock. He was warm on this subject, and waked up the echoes of the forest. He said that he and his brethren would fight the Yankees in this world, and if God permit, chase their frightened ghosts in the next, through fire and brimstone.

About this time we heard the awfullest racket, produced by some wild animal tearing through the woods toward us, and the cry, “Look out! look out! hooie! hooie! hooie! look out!”

And there came running right through our midst a wild bull, mad with terror and fright, running right over and knocking down the divine, and scattering Bibles and hymn books in every direction. The services were brought to a close without the doxology.

This same brave chaplain rode along with our brigade, on an old string-haltered horse, as we advanced to the attack at Chickamauga. He exhorted the boys to be brave, to aim low, and to kill the Yankees as if they were wild beasts. He was eloquent and patriotic. He stated that if he only had a gun he too would go along as a private soldier. You could hear his voice echo and re-echo over the hills. He had worked up his patriotism to a pitch of genuine bravery and daring that I had never seen exhibited, when:

fluff, fluff, fluff, fluff, FLUFF, FLUFF—a whir, a BOOM!​

and a shell screams through the air. The reverend LL. D. stops to listen, like an old sow when she hears the wind. He says “Remember, boys, that he who is killed will sup tonight in Paradise.” Some soldier hallooed at the top of his voice, “Well, parson, you come along and take supper with us.”

Boom! whir!

A bomb burst, and the parson at that moment put spurs to his horse and was seen to limber to the rear. Almost every soldier yelled out, “The parson isn’t hungry, and never eats supper.”

I remember this incident, and so does every member of the First Tennessee Regiment.

*
The Watkins memoir includes some tall tales, exaggerations, unfamiliar battle names and obscurities that are clarified in this version of the book that includes illustrations and 250 annotations.
 
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Virginia Dave

First Sergeant
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Joined
Jan 3, 2019
Location
Waynesboro, Virginia
Have you been able to share your GGGrandfather's writings? I'm sure others would be interested in them!
NOTES FROM HIS WAR DIARY

Manoah Shockley's Civil War Diary written in his Artillery Hand-book written here with corrected spellings M. Shockley was assigned to Barr's Battery on the 16th of October 1863 (4). Arrived at his company on the 21st of October 1863 (4) at Saltville, VA and remained with the battery till the 6th of April then was captured at Harper's farm then taken to prison.

“April 14 I am on the coast at Newport News. I am at Newport News. I was in prison on the 14th. The 15th not well. On a flat piece of land with a high plank fence building around. It is guarded by Negroes commanded by white officers 15th 16th) In prison at Newport News 17th) ditto I am mending I was searched on the 17th 18th) I am tolerably well ? 19th) I am not well had bacon and beef for the ? 20th) to soap and quilt [page 2] April 3, 1865 Barr's Battery left on their way to Farmville they were captured on the 6th of the same instant. After hard fight on the sixth instant. Then we were marched to Burke's station and camped. Thence from there to city passed by the way of Petersburg. We were put on the boat on the 13th of this instant. I was captured at Harper's farm 12 miles west of Burkeville junction. I stayed near Black and White station [Blackstone, Va.] on the night of the 8th instant. I stayed on James River in the boat on my way to (City Point) Newport News on the night of the 13th.":

This transcription is complete! Other pages were so damaged there was no way to recover them.
 
Joined
Mar 1, 2019
It's not a favorite yet but could be as it just may be the next "Civil War " book that I read. Sallie Ann Brock's "Richmond During The War:Four years of Personal Observation" by a Richmond Lady. I hope that I got the title correct as she later wrote 4 more books under the pen-name Virginia Madison.
In a similar vein, see Henri Garidel's detailed "Exile in Richmond: The Confederate Journal of Henri Garidel" (published 2001). Garidel was expelled from New Orleans for his refusal to sign the Oath of Allegiance under Federal occupation. He sent his family to Italy but he was "trapped" in Richmond from May 1863 to May 1865. He was pretty miserable -- and his detailed account of food shortages and other hardships afford a nice insight into life in the Confederate capital as optimism about eventual victory waned.
 

Polloco

Captain
Joined
Sep 15, 2018
Location
South Texas
30 years ago I read a most interesting memoir by a British subject who came over to deliberately fight for the South. He was in the artillery and I can recall his mentioning his red kept. I haven't seen this book in years and can't remember it's title or the authors name. Does a British Artillerist sound familiar to anyone?
 

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